Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast, I’m so delighted to have one of my newest friends—and becoming a very dear friend—Josh Weidmann. Josh Weidmann is a pastor at Grace Chapel in Denver, Colorado. I am so excited that over the last several months I’ve gotten to know Josh fairly well. We’re looking forward to some projects that we’re thinking about doing in the future. That’s not what we came to talk about today, however. Josh is a very committed biblical counselor and as a pastor, I just find that so refreshing that he uses his role in shepherding to model what counseling and soul care should look like. I love to talk to him about this subject—about soul care and all the rest of it. Today, what I want us to discuss is, he’s written a book recently on anxiety—much of it coming out of his own personal experience and I hope in the future we get to converse with him about those particulars, how anxiety impacted his own life, but I want to highlight maybe for our counselors out there this week, I want to talk specifically about the issues of anxiety. Josh, I want to say welcome to the podcast. I’m really excited about this particular subject and your contribution to it. Welcome to the podcast today.
Josh Weidmann: Thank you, Dale. It’s good to be here. And I agree with you, this has been a sweet friendship that God’s forming between us and I’m excited to talk about this topic today.
Dale Johnson: Amen. Now, we’re talking about your book The End of Anxiety. And as with all books, there’s always a story about how this book came about. Give us some understanding about what prompted you to write this book.
Josh Weidmann: Well, I started out on a journey to want to write more material for biblical counselors. I’d written a book on honesty and prayer and what it means for us to confess our thoughts to the Lord with Moody Publishers prior. I started dabbling with anxiety and depression just because so many people were coming into the counseling office there at my church or the ministry that we’d started. I thought, “Man, we really need to put something out to help these people.” I signed a contract to write a book on anxiety. I would have told you at that point I had dealt with it somewhat in my life, but it was as if once I signed that contract the Lord said, “Okay, if you think you’re going to write on anxiety, let’s make sure you understand what anxiety really is.” The next year was the hardest year of my life. It was the hardest year of my ministry. I went through some of the darkest seasons, all while trying to finish a manuscript for a publisher under a deadline on this topic of anxiety.
My life had really been plagued by worry and doubt and fear ever since I was a child. My mom used to talk to me about that as a kid. She would say, “Josh, you’re just so full of worry.” She would call me a worrywart—not trying to put me down, but just saying you have this thing in your life you can’t seem to get rid of. I knew that and I had that and through my time in Chicago at school or at seminary, I had my worries. I don’t know, Dale, that I ever really explained it as anxiety. In the year that I was doing the research and writing this book and then going through my own school of anxiety, if you will, I learned that this is a real thing in my life, and probably something that had a stay in my life for far too long. I needed to understand how to handle it biblically. I needed to understand what to do with it personally before I can help anyone else who walked into my office.
Dale Johnson: That’s great. I’m so grateful that the Lord has given you such wisdom, even through personal experience, to trust in what the Scriptures call us to relative to how we wrestle with anxiety. Anxiety is something that’s quite normal for us. This is why we see in the Scriptures consistently, Jesus is warning us not to worry, not to be anxious. Paul does the same thing in the New Testament. One of the reasons they’re doing that is because we have a lot of opportunity to worry in the finiteness of our life and the curse of the world and all the things that are going on. Sometimes we might ask, “What is God doing with this anxiety? I mean, is it possible that God can use our experiences with anxiety for His glory? If that’s the case, how does that work?”
Josh Weidmann: When I set out to write the book, I thought I would just come up with a lot of biblical tips on how to deal with it. But I had to deal with the question you just asked—what really is the point of it in the first place? Two things that I can say very quickly. One is, worry is talked about so often in the Scriptures, as you pointed out, Dale. It does mention anxiety several different times, but there is this sense of worry both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. I had to go start identifying where we saw anxiety, worry, fear manifest themselves scripturally. As I went on that journey, I started realizing that there’s purpose in all of the worry. There was something great that God did—kind of these “but God” moments, where then the gospel came clear or the revelation of Christ or God’s plan became clear. I started putting the book together and what I thought would maybe be a whole book of biblical tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety, I started realizing, “Well, we have to first understand the point of it and that is that all things bring glory to God.” I titled it The End of Anxiety because I realized that the chief end of my anxiety is still to bring glory to God. In fact, when I first submitted it to the publisher the editor said to me, “I just don’t think you found the end of anxiety. I think your title is overselling it.” I said, “No no, no, did you read chapter 1?” She said, “Yeah, I did. You’re saying that God uses everything for His glory.” I said, “Everything!” If I believe that all things are used for His glory and all things can even manifest deeper joy in His saints, then I have to believe that even our feelings of worry, our emotions that get caught up in that and the anxiety that plagues us, can be used for His greater glory.
I set out with something different in mind than what I found, but then at the beginning of the book, I reveal: I found the end of anxiety. The end goal of our anxiety is to glorify the Lord. I do believe He can use it for His glory—Old Testament, New Testament, or modern day life.
Dale Johnson: We talk about in biblical counseling all the time that we need to aim at God’s glory. Sometimes we don’t think about the things that we’re going through, that the end of that is intended not just simply to truncate our feelings or to rid ourselves of negative or bad feelings, the end of our process is that we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, that we are conformed to His Image. I love the way that you’re spinning that goal in that direction. When we know that as Christians—that the primary goal, the ethos of our life, should be in the direction of the glory of God—why do Christians get this idea of anxiety wrong? I mean, where do we start the process of thinking wrongly about this issue of anxiety?
Josh Weidmann: Well, I think one of the main with things that we get wrong is we think that a life of peace or calmness is the goal. Really, as you said, the goal is the glory of God. I remember speaking with my mentor during some of the worst moments of my anxiety, Randy Patten. He and I were on the phone, and he said one thing to me. I was up in my master bedroom, I was shaking like a leaf. He said, “Josh, why would a sovereign God allow you to have this kind of anxiety right now?” I remember being calmed by that, realizing my goal isn’t to get rid of the anxiety. My goal is to see the Lord’s glory in the midst of my anxiety. What’s He refining in me? What’s He doing in me to make me more stayed upon Him? I think one of the ways that we get it wrong is we make the goal peace that comes by other means than just being with Christ or glorifying Christ.
Dale Johnson: And that’s so subtle. We’re all susceptible to that type of deception, when we enjoy the comforts of the world. That is so true. Now, we’ve talked a little bit about some of the ways that anxiety presents itself, but just to demonstrate identification with those who struggle with anxiety, what are some of the ways that anxious thoughts and anxious feelings express themself in the life of a counselee? What are some of the things that counselors should be looking for so that they can care well for those who are anxious?
Josh Weidmann: Well, that’s a great question, Dale. I think we have to start by understanding how the word is used biblically. It is used many different ways—usually related to fear, usually related to to worry, and a few times related to anxiety. When we hear a counselee come in and they start talking about fears or worry, they’re probably living in an anxious state. One of my favorite passages as of recently to use is Proverbs 28:1. It says, “The wicked flee when no one’s pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Even just this last week, I had somebody who was in my office for counseling and we looked at that passage together. And I said, “Are you anxious because you’re fleeing? Are you anxious because you’re running? And who’s actually pursuing you? What would it look like for you to be as bold as a lion?” And then I talk about the righteousness that we have in our life is because of Christ not because of our own efforts. You can use even Proverbs 28:1 to point them back to the righteousness of Christ, and say if we really understand we’re standing right before God through Christ, then we should be as bold as a lion, no matter the social anxiety that we face, no matter the anxiety over circumstances or relationships or the future that we face, we should be able to be as bold as a lion. We can’t run and flee when no one’s pursuing.
I think it’s important that we help them understand where fear and worry might be wrong, in the sense that they’re not trusting the Lord. In the sense that they’re not relying upon Christ. We look for those things and we point that out to them in a gracious way and say, “Listen, you have all of God behind you if you have a relationship with Him. You have all the righteousness of Christ attributed to you, so why flee, why worry, why run?” Point that back out to them in a way that brings them peace and joy.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, I think in moments like that is so important to slow life down. I call it slowing life down, where we slow these moments down to be able to process maybe at a way and a level that we’ve not done before. Helping your counselee pause for a second and think about it, not dismiss the reality of the experiences of their life, but help them to now evaluate that, measure that according to the truths of who God is and remind ourselves who He is and and how that should flesh itself out in our life. Often, it doesn’t necessarily change the circumstances, but it certainly changes the way that we see them, it helps to remove the fear and the anxious thoughts that are there.
As we think about, how do we help our counselors now help their counselees, it’s very critical. We’ve got conceptually some of those ideas, let’s talk about specifically about passages. I talk a lot to my students about issues that come up in the Bible and they need to have categories that they understand when somebody’s talking about a certain issue that they know the biblical categories to think properly about. That drives them to the Scripture to understand what God says about it, how a person falls into these types of problems, and then how we help them to get out of these things. It’s important that we drive back to the Scripture. Josh, talk for just a second about some of the key passages that, when this category of anxiety arises, give you wisdom to think about how to deal with these types of issues.
Josh Weidmann: Well, Dale, I really like that, I think that’s clear. If you’re sitting with the counselee, I think one category that you could think of first is the category related to trusting God. I mean the main problem with a person who’s plagued with anxiety is likely a lack of trust in God. Now, they may tell you, “I’m trusting the Lord, I listen to the Scriptures at night. I’m trusting Him so much, but these feelings just won’t go away.” Well, I think we really need to minister the Word down in their soul and help them understand, what does it mean to truly trust Him about very specific things? With someone who’s dealing with anxiety, I will unpack their anxieties right there in the counseling office. I’ll say, “Well, tell me what you’re worrying about. Let’s even write them here on my whiteboard or write them here on my piece of paper.” I usually have a white board or piece of paper right on the table. I’ll even draw little bubbles on the paper and say, “Okay, let’s put this bubble over here. So you’re worried about your kids and you’re worried about the future. Okay, what’s the next bubble?” We’ll write all of these things down, and then I’ll try to say, “Listen, all of these things are bringing your anxiety, but what could be the common thread that can help you through all of these? It’s who God is, the chief end of His glory, and it’s His righteousness attributed to you.”
Then I counsel them on what it means to trust God. I’ll spend some time counseling on the sufficiency and the authoritative Word of God. Why can we trust God’s Word in the first place? But then I’ll spend some time really helping them be washed over by the attributes of God—who God is and why God can help us. Anything in the trusting God category will help them. If you think about worry and anxiety, I do think there is some worry—maybe even the majority of worry—that can be sinful. We’re not trusting God as He told us to trust Him. I think you need to point that out and say, “Listen, this slippery slope of worry can get you into a place where you’re sinning in your worry. You’re sinning in your anxiety and let’s avoid that by clinging to the truth of God and who He is.” I think one major category is simply the trusting God category.
Another category that I use quite a bit when counseling those with anxiety—or obviously I’ve used myself—is what I would call the renewing your mind category. Any of the passages related to renewing your mind—like Romans 12, or even Philippians 4, which is very popular and used often when speaking of anxiety. What does it mean for us to think about things that are beautiful, that are noble, that are right? How do we renew our mind and not think too much of ourselves? That passage in Romans 12:3 says, don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. I will point out that to my counselee that any thinking of yourself is too high. If you thinking of yourself too much, you’re thinking too highly of yourself. Let’s stop thinking so much yourself and your circumstances, and let’s renew our mind. I’ll spend quite a bit of time helping them know what it practically looks like to renew their mind. In my book I put three practical, really I would say biblical counseling homeworks, at the end of every chapter. So 48 different things—I tried and used every single one of them. Many of them are Scripture memory. There are different things that you can do, but those are there to help and renew their mind and point them back to Christ.
Dale Johnson: You’ve talked about several passages—Romans 12, Philippians 4, many people think of Matthew 6 or 2 Corinthians 10 on how to take thoughts captive and changing our thoughts—and we should use those, but I love the way that you’re describing how we can’t miss what those passages focus on, which is we trust the character of this God that we have. He’s good and He does good (Psalm 119). That is His character. That’s what He does. He’s sovereign, He’s over everything, and can we put that into practice? That is the bridge. That’s the difficulty, right? I love the way that you’re centering us there.
Now, we’re talking about your book, but there are lots of other resources. I want you to just, very quick as we close this down, give our listeners some other wonderful resources that you found helpful on this issue in dealing with anxiety.
Josh Weidmann: This is obviously a growing topic being addressed in the biblical counseling world, and I think it’s necessary that it is. There’s great booklets like Stuart Scott’s work on anxiety, I find to be something very helpful that talks a little bit about fear. He talks about real fear or reasonable fear, and then unreasonable fear. I love using that with my counselees. Amy Baker has a great book on social anxiety. She talks a lot about that; I found that to be very helpful. Ed Welch has a great book, that even is kind of a workbook style, on fear and worry. Some of these resources I think are great to use with the counselee who’s dealing with worry and anxiety.
Remember that they often are either going to fall in one of two camps. They’re going to do all of their homework really fast and you need to give them a lot of homework, because they will just want to consume everything. Or they will lack motivation to do their homework because of the anxiety. Give them something that makes sense for them. I like the booklets that are helpful again, all of the practical things I’ve put in my book are just small little things that they can do to bite off each week to help them in their anxiety. I think some of those resources will be best used in our counseling ministry, if we continue to supplement the Word of God—use the truth of God’s Word, its authority—but then the practical ministering of God’s Word that these resources bring to help an anxious person understand what it means to glorify God in the midst of anxiety.
Dale Johnson: That’s so great. And I hope our counselors don’t miss what you just said. We can have all the tools and resources in the world, and we need to know how to utilize those, but we have to discern what the counselee needs. We can’t lay too much on the counselee and that’s different for each person, but we don’t want to also lay too little and that’s an important piece of the dynamic of case wisdom, when you’re dealing with an individual counselee and their particular struggles and what they can handle in the process. Take these resources and use them. Josh, has been a great conversation and I’m so delighted that you would join me here.
Josh Weidmann: Thanks, Dale.